On The Responsibility of Media and Entertainment

Hollywood,the big three networks ABC, CBS, and NBC alongside major newspapers have lost their grip on the stories that entertain and build our identities.  There have always been alternatives like Cable or popular magazines, but the internet has brought about new content providers ranging from College Humor sites, Netflix online distribution, Apple’s iOS itunes/app store, to The Huffington Post (which has so much web traffic and readership that it competes with The New York Times).  With so many newcomers and infinite possibilities, any sort of content you wish to get is likely available – legal or not.

Why is this important?  Plato once noted that whoever tells the stories controls the world.  One reason the United States is such a dominating force in the world is because we have been good story tellers.  We don’t just act out for justice and the America way – we tell the story and it gets picked up and told over and over again.  Whether people around the world like the influence of America or not, our stories are everywhere.  The world box office is a testament to American film telling stories.  Those in media realize how much influence they have and monetize it. When America worked to rebuild Europe, in order to fight the communist threat, The Voice of America was established to tell the story of America working with Europe, not against it.  It seems that story was somewhat successful and we tend to work together with Europe.

Media is an influence in all our lives and we all respond in different ways.  Though many feel that the stories they view, read and listen to do not affect them, this is often not the case.  Think about how often the language of a good book, or a quote from a movie comes back to you in a similar circumstance.  Or that line from your favorite song, resonating as you drive home, unable to be dislodged from your memory.  You are influenced.  Each person picks and chooses what they take in as well as how they react to  the stories that make them up.  Some are in acceptance and consume as much as they  can, some are not aware and are passive consumers, and some are resistant and react against culture.

But on the opposite end (not the end user of media but the producer) is the Soup.  The Soup is what Walt Mueller describes (paraphrased) as the mass of culture that we all swim though each day.  We are constantly translating messages and our brain files them where it needs them to be.  Those who make our culture and tell our stories are responsible for this Soup.  Some sips we seek out because we see a program we like or a trailer interested us in a movie.  Or a video game looked appealing on the shelf so we picked it up and experienced the journey of that story as the main character.  But the story itself was told by someone else.  It may be a choose your own adventure, but ultimately all the choices were written for us, which means that we don’t choose the overall matrix which we all experience culture within.  It just exists.  Like the movie Matrix, someone prepared it for us.

Over time, the law of diminishing returns has forced culture producers to move further and further into shocking territory.  Shows like Skins and pornographic horror and breaking away from societal norms to produce shock and awe entertainment have become the norm in this Soup.  At the one end, we have to be responsible for what we consume.  But the producers would be irresponsible if they thought that they had no responsibility at all themselves.

Certainly, good societies thrive on good stories.  Heroic tales of good and evil place us in the cosmos and help us form our moral selves.  Epic adventure films tend to be based on helping someone or something survive and our instincts are at  play as we care about others and seek justice in the best circumstances.  In fantasy we wish for how things were in the past golden ages, in sci fi we wish for a better future and in religious stories we find ourselves caught up in the Creator’s hands, loved and able to be restored as good after doing wrong. Inspirational programming such as The Biggest Loser, Extreme Home Makeover, and Undercover CEO all bring out good things.

But more and more, stories seem to be more about ignoring the good and just having a good time.  As if everyone is a Monad (a ball) bouncing off everyone else.  And they are just trying to entertain themselves until they die and it is “All Good” so long as no one else gets hurt.  Entertainment sometimes crosses lines where we are entertained at others expense.  Even if the characters are fictional, torture movies grip us in fear and we try to laugh afterwards as if nothing happens.  But we just saw torture of a human being.  Over time, the Soup of stories can be strewn with nothing but stories of being lazy, doing wrong to others, laughing at others expense, extreme sexuality or intense violence, death and destruction.  Eventually this affects a person, and their worldview becomes tainted by it.

There are obviously good stories as well as stories that make us worse for watching.  Then there are neutral little stories that inhabit our being and fill in the cracks with silly nonsense and joking around.  But as the entertainment complex grows, as producers of entertainment proliferate, I hope that there is thought to the whole that the individuals are creating.  Is what you produce mostly Good?  Do we even know what Good is anymore?  And how do we all project a great story to the world by the multitudes added up to make One Big Story.  When we look back on what we tell and consume today, is our story even worth telling?

What stories are most important to you? If you are a producer of media, how can you be responsible in producing your content?

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